WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's controversial selection of Michael Boggs to become a federal judge in Georgia lacks enough votes to survive and the nomination should be withdrawn, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday in what amounts to a rare rebuff of the president from his own party.
The fate of Boggs's nomination has been in doubt for months, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats expressed opposition to him because of positions he has taken on abortion, same-sex marriage and the Confederate flag.
Monday's remarks by the Judiciary chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., signaled what could become an embarrassment for Obama. It is unusual for a president's nominees to be rejected by members of his own party.
Several hours earlier, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama did not want Boggs to withdraw his nomination. Earnest gave a modest endorsement of Boggs, saying Obama believes that "Judge Boggs has the necessary qualifications to serve in this role."
After Leahy's statement, White House spokesman Eric Schultz stood by Earnest's remarks.
Leahy's comments came six weeks before congressional elections in which strong support from women and black voters would enhance Democrats' chances of retaining Senate control and limiting expected losses in the House.
Obama last year nominated Boggs, a state appeals court judge, to become a federal district judge in Georgia. Boggs was recommended by that state's two Republican senators as part of a deal to fill seven judicial vacancies there.
In a written statement released Monday by his office, Leahy said, "After talking with Judiciary Committee members, I advised the Georgia senators that Judge Boggs does not have the votes in committee to be reported. His nomination should be withdrawn."
Boggs served as a Georgia state legislator a decade ago. During that time, he backed measures to post information online about doctors who perform abortions — which opponents said could jeopardize those physicians — and to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia flag. He also supported a proposed amendment to the state constitution barring same-sex marriages.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, Boggs told the senators that he now believes his vote on abortion doctors was wrong and he's glad the Confederate emblem was later removed from the state flag. He said his views on same-sex marriage "may or may not have changed."
Nonetheless, he was criticized by several Democrats, with some expressing skepticism that he could make impartial decisions.
Abortion-rights groups hailed word that Boggs' nomination was in trouble.
"Everybody wishes this guy would do the right thing and withdraw," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "He's got no pathway forward, and he's taking up time and energy that everybody wishes could be spent on other things."
Aides to Georgia's two GOP senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, did not immediately return emails Monday seeking comment.
Boggs also did not return a phone message left at his office in Atlanta.
Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.